A Journey in Support of Diversity
Since he was young, Sergio Armani has always found solace on the bike, spending many childhood days riding 20 miles to the nearest reservoir with his tackle box and fishing pole. Some people use yoga to center themselves; Armani cycles.
Carrying well into his adult years, Armani has traveled countless miles on his bike, frequently riding solo and camping along the way.
In 2021, Armani completed perhaps his most important days-long ride to date: the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) Ride for Diversity. Partnering with Rick Fisher from Velocity Clinical Research, the two spent six days riding 360 miles from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. on the Great Allegheny Passage and the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal Towpath trails.
“We’ve talked about doing this trail for years, but something always got in the way,” Armani said. “Finally, I asked Rick if he would do it if we turned this into a ride where we raise money for ACRP to support their efforts in increasing diversity in the clinical research workforce, and he immediately said he was in.”
After a bike accident several years ago left him sidelined from cycling for six months, Armani learned the best way to get out of his own head was to help someone else. Philadelphia – Armani’s home base – is the poorest large city in the United States, with more children under the poverty line than the overall U.S. average.
Partnering with Neighborhood Bike Works (NBW), an organization developed to inspire young people and strengthen Philadelphia communities by providing education, recreation, leadership, and career-building opportunities, Armani said he helped create Ride of Dreams. Armani led eight kids on a round-trip ride from Philadelphia to Harrisburg, PA, where the riders met with state senators to talk about how state legislatures could increase funding for youth-based programs like NBW. Additionally, they advocated for safer urban riding by helping to fund more bike-friendly intersections and bike paths within Philadelphia.
“That was fifteen years ago,” Armani said. “I’ve been thinking ever since about what else I could do.”
Since joining Schulman IRB (now part of Advarra) seven years ago, Armani said he’s learned of various research abuses against minority populations. These historic abuses have a lasting effect, potentially frightening people from minority groups away from research participation. With less diversity in clinical trial participation, new therapies may be developed and approved without relevant data from all potential patient populations, impacting healthcare for many.
“If you’re a person of color, Latino, or other minority group, and you walk into a research site, you’ll see a lot of blonde hair and blue eyes, or perhaps the site staff speak a different language than you,” he said. “And you’ll remember all the bad things you’ve heard about research in your life, and you might just walk back out.”
With this narrative in mind for years, Armani said that’s how the Ride for Diversity was born. The goal of the Ride is to raise awareness and help people in poorer communities find a career they might not otherwise be aware of – a career in clinical research.
Turning a Concept into Conversation
When applying for his current position with ACRP’s board of directors, Armani explained he wanted ACRP to create a program to support minority communities around the U.S. His idea to do the Ride for Diversity is helping him accomplish just that.
Supported by ACRP’s Partnerships in Workforce Advancement, a portion of proceeds from the 2021 Ride went toward Black Women in Clinical Research, an organization designed to help women of color find jobs in clinical research. This organization also provides workshops, resume writing, and interview training for women of color. Additionally, Ride proceeds went toward sending 21 members of Black Women in Clinical Research to the 2022 ACRP conference.
“We must increase representation in clinical research for diverse people,” said Danielle Mitchell, CEO and Founder of Black Women in Clinical Research. “Our members are excited to attend ACRP 2022 and take advantage of the excellent education and networking. Opportunities like this can truly change lives for the better.”
Ultimately, Armani said the Ride is about changing the narrative for so many. This is an opportunity, he said, to keep the conversation moving and to not let the dust settle. Continuing to push for a more diverse workforce will also help drive a more diverse clinical trial participant population. While it’s critical for clinical studies to reflect our real-world population, the first place to start an effort to make change is with the people employed within research organizations.
“It’s not just about diversity in clinical research, but also in the workforce,” he said. “It’s about giving people the opportunity to even have a seat at the table, and to know there are choices. If you don’t know about something, you don’t know there’s a choice.”
Adding more diverse clinical research staff reaps benefits for the organization, for current and future participants, and for healthcare as a whole.
“We like to call this amazing effort ‘a ride for a reason,’” said Susan Landis, ACRP’s Executive Director. “ACRP serves as the industry’s strongest advocate for clinical research professionals and is committed to building a diverse, research-ready workforce. We rely on industry leaders like Sergio to bring unique approaches to not only raising awareness, but also raising funds. It’s efforts like this that allow ACRP to create connections through community that help lead the way for workforce development in clinical research.”
The 2021 Ride posed different challenges, including extreme heat, riding through cicada clouds, and torrential downpours. However, each day, Armani said he realized these challenges paled in comparison to the challenges many minority populations face when it comes to paying for proper housing, or to put food on the table. With this mindset, both Armani and Fisher were able to push through the pain.
“We were still dripping wet and shivering at the end of the ride when someone asked if we’d do it again,” Armani said. “Rick and I looked at each other, laughed, and said, ‘Absolutely!’”